CapMetro’s shift to electric buses, explained

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – On Oct. 16, CapMetro flipped the switch on their new electric bus charging yard. “The opening of this yard is such an important step in Capitol Metro’s goal to electrify our entire transit fleet,” says Dottie Watkins, Chief Customer Officer with CapMetro.

The new depot is just the latest step in CapMetro’s shift to electric buses. Why is the city making the shift?

Over the next five years, CapMetro plans to purchase 71 more electric buses and phase out their current diesel powered ones. In January 2020, the city unveiled their first two electric buses, each of which cost about $300,000 more than a diesel bus.

But the cost is offset by the money CapMetro will save by not paying for oil and gas, according to CapMetro board member Eric Stratton. He says that the lithium batteries used by the electric buses will save CapMetro around $400,000 a year in operating costs.

Besides saving the city money, the electric buses are also quieter.

Electric busses around the world

There has been a bit of resistance in the United States to electric buses. In 2019, the U.S. had around 300 electric buses on its streets, according to one Bloomberg report. That same year, China had more than 400,000 electric buses.

This will likely change in the near future. Many cities and states have now pledged to transition a third of the U.S.’ 70,000 buses to electric by 2045, according to a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Why has the U.S. been resistant to the shift? First, the upfront cost of the buses has been a deterrent. Additionally, the buses can’t run as long before they need to recharge. An electric bus operating in a city can travel around 225 miles before it needs a recharge.

Cities require updated infrastructure to do that, needing charging stations and electricity routed to those charging stations. That additional work and cost has caused cities to be resistant to the change.

Austin, in its shift to electric, has planned ahead. In 2020, CapMetro budgeted more than $100 million to improve infrastructure. Part of those improvements included the new electric bus charging depot.

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